Elsi Vassdal Ellis: Al-Mutanabbi I at San Francisco Center for the Book

The San Francisco Center for the Book is exhibiting fifty-four artist’s books from the “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” project from February 01 – May 11, 2013.

Elsi Vassdal Ellis is one of the artists in the exhibit. Her piece is titled Al-Mutanabbi I and we were delighted to discover a post from 23 Sandy Gallery about the piece. Laura Russell of 23 Sandy Gallery gave us permission to reprint her blog post about Elsi Vassdal Ellis and her “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” artist book. For the original post, go to http://23sandy.com/works/blog-postings/artist-book-spotlight-al-mutanabbi

Artist Book Spotlight: Al Mutanabbi I, by Elsi Vassdal Ellis

War and its effects are a frequent topic for book artist Elsi Vassdal Ellis. I could never express my thoughts on such an emotional topics with the same eloquence and intelligence that Elsi manages. She is a deep thinker, a profound and prolific writer who journals regularly to cast out demons with her intense and insightful feelings.

Elsi Vassdal Ellis | Al-Mutanabbi at San Francisco Center for the Book as part of the "Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here" exhibition

Elsi Vassdal Ellis | Al-Mutanabbi at San Francisco Center for the Book as part of the “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” exhibition

Elsi tells us of her Al Mutanabbi project, “I have avoided revisiting Iraq for a few years now. The multi-layers of war and politics, internal and external to Iraq, created a black hole in my creative life. I needed to take a sabbatical from my attention to this war. When invited to participate in An Inventory of Al Mutanabbi Street by Beau Beausoleil, I girded up my loins, so to speak, and opened the Iraq door again.”

Beau’s Al Mutanabbi project is a call to book artists to react to this horrific event, “On March 5th 2007, a car bomb was exploded on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. Al-Mutanabbi Street is in a mixed Shia-Sunni area. More than 30 people were killed and more than 100 were wounded. Al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic center of Baghdad bookselling, holds bookstores and outdoor bookstalls, cafes, stationery shops, and even tea and tobacco shops. It has been the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community.” You can learn more about Beau’s project here.

The first of three books Elsi is creating for this Project, an editioned artist book titled Al Mutanabbi I is a powerful, multi-layered, complex and emotional project. The 112 pages of this book contain a photographic project documenting the decay of three books placed in her yard. She tells us, “There are many landscapes explored between the non-linear narrative and the images of slowly decaying books. The reader is gently reminded that we are all moving, some gently, some violently, towards decay, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Elsi Vassdal Ellis | Al-Mutanabbi part of the "Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here" exhibit at the San Francisco Center for the Book

Elsi Vassdal Ellis | Al-Mutanabbi part of the “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” exhibit at the San Francisco Center for the Book

The book also features extensive text. “It is a meditation upon the book as container, as cultural artifact, as ideas in corporeal form. It calls out the names of booksellers, book buyers, book browsers who were killed on Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad, Iraq. It also acknowledges the many journalists who have also sacrificed themselves for the revealing the truth about Iraq.”

Also included on every page are quotations about books from thinkers ranging from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Benjamin Disraeli to this fitting quote by Akiba ben Joseph, “The paper burns but the words fly away.”

Elsi Vassdal Ellis | Al-Mutanabbi part of the "Al-Mutanabbit Street Starts Here" at the San Francisco Center for the Book

Elsi Vassdal Ellis | Al-Mutanabbi part of the “Al-Mutanabbit Street Starts Here” at the San Francisco Center for the Book

Elsi’s book reads like a journal documenting her deeply affecting meditations on life and death and books. Each page is dated, beginning July 28, 2011 and continuing through October 11 of the same year. Elsi’s powerful text captured each day runs the gamut from reflections, “the photographs are a sacrilege, the action is an abomination” to outrage over the compromised civil liberties of American library constituents. A list of the booksellers killed on that fateful day plus a detailed list of journalists killed in Iraq is included “so you can not help but continue to read their names, to keep them immortal.”

Elsi Vassdal Ellis | Al-Mutanabbi

Elsi Vassdal Ellis | Al-Mutanabbi

23 Sandy Gallery is pleased to present a solo show for book artist Elsi Vassdal Ellis from Bellingham, Washington. The show runs through March 10, 2012. Elsi has the unique distinction of being selected for every single national juried book arts exhibition here since we opened our doors nearly five years ago. We are proud to honor Elsi with a solo show of her one-of-a-kind and edition artist books.

Elsi’s books are most often political in nature, focusing on topics ranging from war to the atomic bomb to genocide to the inequities of male versus female pay scales. Her books are deeply considered, often involving copious original writings regarding these weighty topics. Superb craftsmanship and a strong interest in materiality are also important aspects of her work.

Click here to view a complete catalog of Elsi’s show.
Elsi feels her job as a book artist is really more that of an alchemist, someone who searches the ends of the earth for the necessary matter, subjects it to fire and ice and distillation, concentrating the experiences to serve as the voice and witness for current and future generations.

Thank you Elsi, for all you do to change the world.


Thank-you Laura for allowing us to repost your blog here. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this book, contact 23Sandy or view the web page at http://23sandy.com/works/products-page/artist-books/al-mutanabbi-1#!prettyPhoto

See Elsi Vassdal Ellis’ book at SF Center for the Book through May 11, 2013. https://sfcb.org/exhibitions/gallery

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The San Francisco Center for the Book sfcb.org

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